For as long as I can remember, people have asked me about my skincare routine. To be honest, I’ve had the same routine for a number of years. Since I am a product person, I enjoy mixing it up and trying new things, but for the most part I am very loyal to specific products and brands. When I was growing up, my Korean mother made sure that I took care of my skin. This involved washing my face in the morning and at night, wearing the right products for my skin, and getting facials and scrubs at Korean bathhouses (Jjimjilbang). Skincare in Korea is a somewhat exhaustive multi-step process. To outsiders looking in, the 10-step skincare regimen sounds a bit extreme, but it is actually done within about ten minutes once you get into the flow of things and it all boils down to cleansing, exfoliating, treating, moisturizing, and protecting your skin.
My skin type is combination, meaning I have oily skin in some areas and dry skin in other areas. Like most people with combination skin, the t-zone area (forehead, nose, and chin) seem to carry the most oil. I also have incredibly sensitive skin, (a variety of dermatological problems and beauty products) so I rely on my Dermatologist to help fix any issues that arise. All of the products that I am recommending work for my skin type, but may not work for yours if you are not combination. Remember that the key to beautiful skin is also getting enough sleep (7-8 hours per night), hydration (enough water and tea), exercise (any type of movement that gets your heart rate up), and diet (eating clean foods). It is a combination of these things that will make your skin glow and stay youthful for years to come.
Step One: Make-up Removal + Oil Cleanser
Korean women typically use two types of cleansers. The first is an Oil-based Cleanser to remove oil-based makeup, SPF, and other impurities on their skin from being outside. After living in Paris, I got accustomed to French products.The French, like the Koreans, do not believe in treating the skin harshly. So in French pharmacies, you will find a lot of thermal waters that are delicate that also feel good on your skin. The best eye makeup remover goes on like water, but is still really powerful. I start removing my make-up with a cotton square from Muji that is soaked in Micellar by Avene or Bioderma. Hands down, these are the best makeup removers that I have ever tried. It cuts through waterproof makeup without leaving an oil residue that most makeup removers have and they come in a variety of formulations for sensitive, normal, and oily skin. Next, I follow-up with an Oil-based cleanser. My favorite is Eve Lom’s. You must read the instructions on how to use this cleanser for it to be effective (it involves washing three times, using a muslin cloth, and switching from hot to cold water). I have used it for a number of years now and have found that this is the best one on the market. If I am wanting a simple and traditional oil cleanser, I opt for Shu Uemura that acts as a two-in-one oil cleanser and makeup remover filled with all types of different oils.
Eve Lom’s Cleanser buffed in with a warm muslin cloth to dissolve debris and stimulate circulation before flying.
Step Two: Water-Based Cleanser / Foam Cleanser
Following the Make-up Removal and Oil-Based Cleanser, you will want to do the second cleanser, which is a Water-based cleanser or a Foam Cleanser, which removes any remaining residue and impurities from your oil cleanse (make-up, sweat, dirt). Since you’ve already used the Avene Micellar Lotion at this point, I would continue with a Foam Cleanser. I have a few brands that I like and I go back and forth depending on the weather conditions and how my skin is feeling. Cetaphil is an expensive and great option for those with extremely sensitive skin. My dermatologist always recommends this when my skin is having difficulty since its hypoallergenic. I really love the La Mer Cleansing Foam for mornings. It keeps your skin feeling very silky and smooth, and smells fresh and light. At night, I prefer the Sensai Step 2, which is very buttery and luxe.
Step Three: Exfoliator
Use a gentle, non-irritating exfoliator 2-3 times per week to unclog pores, remove dead skin cells, and to keep skin looking youthful. Koreans often use gommage peels that allow dead skin to simply roll off with a mix of botanical and fruit extracts.They use this kind of peel at my favorite facial that I go to in Chinatown in New York City after they do my extractions. At home, I like to keep it simple with Fresh’s Sugar Face Polish. I’ve used this product since I was in college and it seems to leave my face feeling silky and smooth afterwards.
Step Four: Toner
Toner acts as a way to prep the skin, so it’ll absorb the following treatments better. It is important that you don’t use a toner that is too harsh on your skin. This is one of my favorite steps, because it makes me feel so revitalized after I do it. Beauty Water by Son & Park is one of my favorite products of all time. I totally swear by it. It smells wonderful, is super light, and makes you feel refreshed. Just add a generous amount to a cotton square and circle your face, starting with your t-zone area, during both morning and night.
Step Five: Essence
Essence is one of the most important steps out of Korean skin care. Though formulated with varying viscosities, essences tend to be a bit more fluid and less concentrated than serums. Their main purpose is to moisturize the skin and make the most of the serums that follow. An essence is a kind of toner/ serum hybrid made for hydrating and aiding skin repair and cell turnover. Pat it on your skin with a cotton square, applying gently across your face. I like Missha’s, which is composed of 90% yeast, which plumps the skin, smooths the texture, and reduces hyper-pigmentation. It may seem like it’s light and not doing anything at first, but if you continue using it for a few weeks, you’ll start to see your skin brighten.
Step Six: Treatments: Serum, Boosters, or Ampoule Treatments
These products are formulated with active ingredients that target specific needs by skin type, such as fine lines, loss of firmness, hyperpigmentation, dehydration, inflammation, large pores, wrinkles, acne, etc. You can customize your regimen here, adding or removing products as you see fit. You can use them in any order, but generally thicker products go on later. It’s not a necessary step for everyone. Personally, I like to use salicylic acid and glycolic to prevent breakouts and resurface my skin, so I love the M61 PowerGlow individual treatments. They are a great product if you are traveling, because they come individually packed. You simply glide the moist sheet around your face (avoiding the eye area) and you’ll feel the tingly sensation as it works into your pores.
Step Seven: Sheet Mask + Eye Mask
Ask any Korean and they will swear by sheet masks. Single-use sheet masks are formulated with the same active ingredients as serums, but are more of an “a la carte” version. All you have to do is put one on your face and chill out for 20-minutes time. It’s a nice opportunity to sit and meditate or lay down on your back in your bed and rest. I do these at 3x a week at least and will never go on a trip without a few of them in my dopp kit. I prefer Soo Ae’s collagen mask, as it’s best for tightening up the skin, but I also have a number of different Korean brands that I have tried that I liked. I also love SK-II’s eye masks for the airplane on international flights. In one application, they reduce fine lines and dullness making eyes visibly brighter and more refreshed.
Step Eight: Eye Cream
The skin around your eyes is thinner and more easily dehydrated, so it should be treated with a cream specifically formulated to protect, nourish, brighten, or de-puff. Depending on the eye cream you choose, this could focus on everything from fine lines to dark circles. For me, I have really bad dark circles, so I wear a cream that targets that. I know I have a lot of La Mer products listed here, but I really do believe they are the superior beauty products on the market and worth the investment. The Eye Concentrate is used to specifically target dark circles using an iron-rich mineral called hematite (that helps improve dark circles, discolorations, and unevenness).
Step Nine: Moisturizer/ Face Cream
Even if you complete the most basic skin-care routine, I can’t stress enough how moisturizer should be worn both day and night. Hydration is key for glowing skin, so it’s important to find a moisturizer that works for your skin type, even if you think you don’t need it. They come in many forms—from a lotion, gel, cream, or oil—all of which work to seal in moisture to plump up skin and smooth away any fine lines. Pat a moisturizer into your face and neck morning and night every single day. On days when your skin feels extra parched, swap your regular moisturizer for a thicker cream. I switch between products depending on how my skin is feeling and what season we are in. I prefer different products for morning and evening, as they serve different purposes for me. In the mornings, I will switch off between La Mer’s Genaissance Lotion or La Mer’s Gel Cream. They both go on super smooth, but the gel is my favorite if I am putting on makeup. In the evenings, I will use La Mer’s Soft Cream or Eve Lom’s Cream. If my skin feels particularly sensitive or I have just had a treatment from my Dermatologist and need something very calm, I use Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream, which is an oil-free cream with a lot of moisture without any harmful products. If I am super dry, I use an oil, but I usually only use these in the winter months. I like the french brand Darphin’s 8 Flower Nectar Oil for deep nourishment or Rodin’s Luxury Face Oil with eleven essential oils that doens’t leave my face feeling oily. If I am traveling and want something super easy, I refer back to French brands and use either Embryolisse Concentrated Lait Cream or La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Daily Moisturizer. Both are super light moisturizers that won’t irritate your skin and are good if you are in transit a lot.
- Morning (Lux): La Mer Genaissance Lotion/ La Mer The Moisturizing Gel Cream
- Evening (Lux): La Mer The Moisturizing Soft Cream
- Morning/ Evening (Everyday): Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream or Eve Lom Moisturizer
- Morning/ Evening (Dry) Darphin 8 Flower Nectar Oil, Rodin Luxury Face Oil
- Pharmacy Brand (Everyday): Embryolisse Concentrated Lait Cream, La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Daily Moisturizer
Step Ten: SPF
Every morning, finish off your skincare regimen with either a dedicated sunscreen, BB cream, or at minimum, make sure that you are wearing some type of SPF in your foundation. Koreans think SPF is one of the most important steps to maintaining good skin and staying youthful. For me, I have SPF in my tinted moisturizer, so I don’t need to double it up, but if I am going to be exposed to sunlight when I am not wearing makeup, this is my favorite SPF.
Extra: Sleeping Mask, Ointment, Mists, Soaps
Sleeping Mask: Skin regeneration goes into overtime while you sleep, and no-rinse sleeping masks make the most of this process. Packed with active ingredients, they feel like creams and stay on your skin all night so you can get your beauty sleep (literally).
- Dr. Hauschka Hydrating Mask with Rose Wax and Shea Butter
Ointment: I discovered Homeopasmine while I was living in Paris. It is my absolute favorite for any dryness (lips, ears, nose). It's a Vaseline-like ointment was originally designed for the chapped nipples of nursing mothers, but it’s now used universally. It also makes a really awesome lip balm since it also doesn’t look glossy, so you can apply any lip color on top of it when you need some more moisturizer. I also you Cicabiafine ointment for burns and dry skin. To me, it is better than aloe vera when you get a sunburn, so it's always with me when I'm traveling to any beach holiday.
Mists: I almost never leave the house without at least one mist in my bag. Whether I am traveling on a plane or simply trying to reset my make-up and stay hydrated during meetings, I usually always have one on me. I go back and forth with which one I carry, but I really love all three of these and feel like you can't go wrong with any of them.
- Avène Thermal Spring Water
- Heritage-Store Rose Water
- Caudalie Beauty Elixer
- Herbivore Rose Hibiscus Coconut Water Hydrating Face Mist
Soaps: If you can't pick up fresh soap from the Provence region in France, the next best thing is Binu Binu (a Korean jjimjilbang-inspired soap company) or an Aesop slab of soap. Simple, yet effective.
Specialists: Dermatologist, Cosmetic Treatments, Facialist
These are by best-of-the-best specialists for anything skin related. I have been seeing them for a number of years and couldn't say enough good things about them. Whether you are looking for a general Dermatologist, need to fix a serious skin issue, or you're looking to freshen up your look- these are the best that there are.
- Dermatologist: Dr. Samer Jaber, Washington Square Dermatology
- Cosmetic Treatments: Dr. Mike Nguyen, Vein Institute and Pain Centers of America
- Facialist: Seasons Spa on Hester Street, ask for Liy, get the $35 Mini-Facial with Extraction